The First Step Never Taken

08 Jan, 2020 Mark Pew


January is viewed as an opportunity for a new start for a good reason – it is the beginning of a new year. And in the case of this year, even a new decade. Although it is literally just a manmade new aggregation of 365 (or 366 in the case of 2020) days, metaphorically it becomes an opportunity for a fresh start. If the prior year was difficult, it’s “good riddance – let’s hit the reset button.” If the prior year was great, it’s “here’s how we can make it even better.” If there are new opportunities on the horizon, it’s “can’t wait to get started.” Invariably, a resolution (“a promise to yourself to do something”) for change is created for what needs to be done differently or better (or not repeated). It seems like more people make resolutions when they’ve had a difficult prior year, which means they should be thoroughly motivated to make change happen. Unfortunately, resolutions usually don’t last (the gym is more crowded on January 2 than it is on February 2 or March 2). According to a January 2017 Business Insider article “approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.” That is unfortunate because establishing a new habit (or “kicking” an old habit) takes approximately 66 days to become automatic.

Everyone would agree that initiating positive change (fulfilling your resolution) and seeing it through to the end – in some cases, forever – is the preferred outcome. Whether losing weight or fixing a relationship or finding a new job or implementing a more empathetic claims process, making it actually happen not only changes a life’s trajectory but provides a level of self-satisfaction (even if it took help from others to accomplish) that is hard to replicate in any other form. But it’s already been documented most people do not achieve that outcome, which begs the question:

Is it better to have started something and never complete it or to never have started it in the first place?

To argue the latter: Setting yourself up for failure and disappointment just doubles the negative repercussions so it’s best not to make promises you cannot fulfill. This is the path of least resistance. Yes, doing nothing means status quo and it reserves the right for you to continue complaining about your circumstances (and maybe even blaming others). But it’s possible that the randomness of life grants you some unsolicited successes. You’re just floating down the river, going wherever geography and gravity (and fate) takes you. Maybe it will work out.

To argue the former: Although there is ultimate disappointment in not achieving the full goal, you could make some incremental lasting changes along the way that are still helpful. Of course, trying could be futile and you only learn what you cannot do (as opposed to what you can do). But as has been repeated often, “it’s not how many times you get knocked down that counts; it’s how many times you get back up” as a way of learning from those mistakes.

Once upon a time, a man was given a choice. And he decided to not make one. So he sat there. And sat there. And sat there. And then he complained about being stuck.

Once upon a time, a man was given a choice. Unbeknownst to him at the time, he made the right one. There were two paths available – one that was more direct but time-consuming while the other was more free-flowing but circuitous. As it turned out, he could have taken either path to arrive at the destination but the chosen journey better prepared him for arrival. Both paths were difficult but progress upon them led to the desired destination. When the time came to make a choice, he made it. With no guarantee of success or even completion, he took the first step.

What is your first step in 2020?

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    About The Author

    • Mark Pew

      Mark Pew is a passionate educating and agitating thought leader in workers’ compensation and award-winning international speaker, blogger, author and jurisdictional advisor. He has focused on the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment since 2003. He is the driving force and co-founder of The Transitions and just recently launched The RxProfessor consulting practice at

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